When the coronavirus pandemic started, the high-Rockies situated Gunnison County was cautious — so much so that they closed their borders to nearly all outsiders and to many part-time residents as well. However, the county has since taken steps to carefully reopen and shows little hit to the economy.
“We’ve been doing great, but, like the rest of the state, we’ve seen an uptick in cases,” Andrew Sandstrom, the Gunnison County public information officer, said. “The bright spot there is that we’re not seeing impacts on our healthcare system yet.”
The number of coronavirus cases was part of the reason why previous public health orders from the county prohibited non-resident homeowners from entering the county, although there was a process for requesting entry, and concerns were raised about the limited options for supplies and the small 24-bed ICU facility at the local hospital. This led to a letter in April from the Texas Attorney General’s Office which questioned the constitutionality of the county’s public health orders. Nothing further came of the question after Gunnison County sent back their response.
The county has seen mixed reactions to COVID actions, but no current lawsuits to Sandstrom’s knowledge. A local group, the Gunnison Valley 2nd Homeowners Political Action Committee started by local Jim Moran, which aims to raise money for having a larger political voice in the community for second-homeowners, Sandstorm said.
According to the group’s website, gv2hpac.org, while elected officials will come and go, the “GV2H” will “permanently” stand to hold them accountable and give “all non-resident property owners and local business owners a voice (especially where they don’t have a vote), and seek the removal of any politician who RULES rather than GOVERNS.”
The group’s first goal is to raise funds allowing them to “oppose government overreach” and nothing is more difficult that opposing “the county’s and town’s fast moving edicts on the fly without resources, organization and leadership.” The group also looks to get involved with opposing the current “rule” and move elected officials back to governance. They aim to “ideally” have one individual representing their interests in all jurisdictions within the county.
The group did not return requests for comment by publication, and Sandstrom said he was unaware whether any prior cases or COVID-19 had anything to do with their creation.
Now, however, Gunnison County is open once again — with precautions, Sandstrom explained. The county is now under a long-term public health order, which works under a five-tier color-coded system — called the “Coronameter” — which works like the fire danger color-code system. The Coronameter is designed to make it easier for the public and businesses to understand the level of community risk from COVID, and the ensuing restrictions in place at each level of the meter.
Earlier in the pandemic, the county was looking at rewriting a 30-page legal document every week to address changes stemming from changes, Sandstrom said. The goal was building a long-standing order which the community could better understand what it meant both for their lives and their businesses.
Metrics are used to determine what level of the meter they are at based on the number of positive cases and rates going up or down and how much of an impact has it made on the health care system.
The county also met with all entities which had some enforcement capacity, and have had success in random walkthroughs of businesses for compliance. Each business receives a sort of report card, Sandstrom explained, which rates how well the business is doing in compliance and how to improve or how they have exceeded expectations.
“We were early to close down, but we were also early to open up,” Sandstrom said. The county’s first spike of COVID was earlier than most other areas, but the county had mostly reopened by June.
In terms of the county’s economy, Gunnison shows some promising signs for the future. For Crested Butte, lodging tax for June was only down 1% year-over-year, and total sales tax was only down 4% year-over-year, he said.
And, despite the pandemic, and it’s encroaching on the ski season in the area, the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service have reported a major amount of people entering public lands. Early indicators show that overall “it’s been a pretty strong a summer.” Camping especially has seen massive amounts of use, and the number of people wanting to get out in the outdoors have been extremely high, he added.
Looking to the future, especially the ski season, the county has been working with the ski community on public health and bringing best practices to their operations.